Noise anxiety is a fear of certain sounds that goes above and beyond what most normal dogs experience and results in panicky, desperate behavior. Dogs with noise anxiety may attempt to escape or get away from certain noises, and the phobia can significantly impact their quality of life.
Noise anxiety is one of the most common forms of anxiety afflicting dogs around the world. While it’s difficult to determine an exact number, the American Animal Hospital Association estimates that around forty percent of dogs suffer from some form of noise-based anxiety.
Like humans, dogs can develop an aversion to nearly any “type” of sound, but some triggers are more common than others. By far the most common trigger is thunderstorms, but fireworks, slamming doors, and other loud noises are fairly common as well.
Ultimately, there’s no real set of requirements for your dog’s trigger. Even a squeaky door or the sound of the bathroom exhaust can be anxiety-inducing for one specific dog, even if other dogs don’t mind.
Some noise aversions only manifest in direct response to a specific set of conditions, while others may crop up whenever the dog is in a similar situation. Some dogs may develop a phobia associated with the usual conditions of the noise. For example, a dog that’s afraid of thunder may start showing signs of anxiety whenever it gets too cloudy outside.
Unfortunately, we don’t really know why dogs develop these anxiety. Most likely, the anxiety is the result of a combination of factors, including genetics, trauma, and social conditioning. If a dog is exposed to a mildly unpleasant noise over and over again, they may learn to associate that noise with stress or discomfort, and over time, that unease will grow into a full-blown phobia.
Signs and Symptoms
Depending on your dog’s personality, the signs and symptoms of their anxiety disorder may manifest in different ways. In general, however, common signs can be broken into three main categories: active, passive, and physiologic.
|Active symptoms||Passive symptoms||Physiological symptoms|
|Pacing or running||Hiding or cowering||Panting or salivating|
|Digging, clawing, or destruction||Ears tucked back, tail between legs||Trembling or tense muscles|
|Climbing and jumping to “escape” the noise||Unusual alertness or vigilance||Urination or defecation|
|Barking or other signs of aggression||Whining or lip licking||Dilated pupils|
Depending on the severity or duration of your dog’s anxiety attacks, they may display multiple symptoms at the same time. Of the symptoms listed above, some go beyond troubling and into downright dangerous territory for your dog.
If your dog displays any or all of the listed physiological reactions for a sustained amount of time, you should take them in to your local veterinarian as soon as possible. Fear can take a heavy toll on any creature’s body, and the more common physical symptoms can lead to dehydration, exhaustion, and even death.
The more “mental” symptoms can be equally exhausting. The main key here is time: if your dog displays symptoms for an extended period of time, it can be extremely damaging to their mental and physical health. In this case, you’ll want to get professional help immediately.
Even if your dog’s symptoms seem more manageable, you may still want to consider consulting your local veterinarian or animal behaviorist. Before you make any calls, however, take the time to study your dog’s behavior.
In order to make sure that your dog gets the help that they need, keep a record of their symptoms. Take note of when they show signs of an anxiety disorder, as well as where and how these signs manifest. You should also record the duration of the different symptoms.
Having the information in hand will help you help your vet. If you’re already prepared with answers to the questions that they’re most likely to ask, you can act quickly and decisively to give your dog the help that they need to overcome their anxiety.
Diagnosis and Owner Participation
As mentioned briefly in the introduction, it’s certainly possible that your dog may suffer from multiple types of anxiety disorder. For this reason, it’s always good to get a professional medical opinion, as comorbidity can significantly impact the treatment plan that you and your vet decide to use.
Because noise anxiety is such a common disorder among dogs, most veterinarians and animal behaviorists have seen enough cases to be able to give a solid diagnosis. A diagnosis will help you alleviate a lot of the “guesswork” of trying to help your dog and give you a steady foundation for how you can move forward.
Because this diagnosis is so important, it’s crucial that you do everything you can to help your vet out! In general, there are a handful of questions that you should do your best to answer before talking to a specialist. Those questions include:
What does your dog do?
- Take note of the way your dog acts and how they respond to unpleasant noises. Make sure you note the severity of the symptoms and whether they’re increasing in severity.
What noises or noise-related stimuli does your dog respond to?
- Is your dog associated other stimuli with unpleasant noises? If so, are these associated factors growing in number? Does your dog respond to related noises that are in any way similar to their “main” trigger?
How long does it take for your dog to recover?
- Pay close attention to how long it takes for your dog to return to normal baseline behavior after each noise event. Is there anything you’ve noticed that helps them feel safe more quickly?
Does your dog’s behavior change when you’re around?
- This is mostly to help rule out other forms of anxiety. If your dog responds to common noises, are they more likely to do so if you’re in the other room? Do they seem better able to handle unpleasant noises when you’re with them, or do they react the same way, no matter where you are?
How often do the noise events happen?
- By keeping note of your dog’s noise events, you’ll be able to give your vet a clear picture of the scale and severity of their anxiety attacks. You’ll also be able to start working on isolating the root cause and working around the more obvious triggers.
How does confinement affect your dog?
- Again, this is another question that mainly aims to rule out other sources of anxiety. If your dog has a crate or a closed-off room, are they more or less likely to react to unpleasant noises while confined?
By answering these questions before talking to a vet or a behaviorist, you’ll be able to give any specialist a huge advantage in determining treatment and care.
How You Can Help
Noise anxiety in dogs can be a scary issue, but you’re not alone in dealing with it, and you’re certainly not helpless. Depending on the severity of your dog’s anxiety, your vet may recommend one of several courses of action.
The first and most obvious method of treating your dog’s anxiety is via medication. The most common medication for noise anxiety in dogs is actually a mix of different antidepressants and anxiolytics (drugs specifically designed to reduce anxiety). Some dogs can benefit from benzodiazepenes (like Xanax, but for dogs) or sileo gel applied before or during a noise event.
It’s important to note that these medications will not “fix” your dog’s anxiety. Instead, they can help calm them down or simply remove their ability to act on some of their impulses.
As with humans, it’s absolutely vital that you get a proper diagnosis from a medical professional before attempting to medicate your dog on your own. Your vet will help you adjust the dosage and make sure that your dog is getting the medical help that they need without running the risk of putting them in greater danger.
In most cases, however, your vet will most likely recommend a mix of treatments. In other words, while they may recommend a medical or pharmaceutical solution, they’ll probably also provide a list of steps you can take at home to help reduce your dog’s anxiety.
The first step to take is trigger reduction. If you can noise-proof your home to block out some of the worst noise events, you can dramatically reduce your dog’s anxiety almost overnight. If your dog responds to a specific noise, you may be able to completely remove the stimulus that has them so upset.
In some cases, however, noise-proofing may not be possible. In this case, you want to focus on building a safe space for your dog. If they’re okay with being crated, make sure that their crate has a thick blanket over the top to block out sound and make sure that they have quick and easy access to their crate. If you have a television or radio nearby, try placing some other source of noise between your dog and the source of the triggering noise.
Provide plenty of positive reinforcement during a noise event. Your dog may be looking to you to determine how they ought to act during a potentially scary situation, so make sure you give them lots of love, affection, and calm, affirming praise if they’re behaving well. In addition, you should do your best to keep your own voice, tone, and overall attitude as level and calm as possible.
Try to avoid leaving your dog alone during noise events. Do not punish them for any signs or symptoms of anxiety. If possible, provide white noise or calming music to drown out the offensive noise, and follow any good behavior during a noise event with a treat!
You may have seen thunder vests suggested as a potential solution to your dog’s anxiety problem. Essentially a compression sock for your dog’s chest, a thunder vest can really help your dog feel more secure and in control during a noise event. However, if your dog suffers from confinement anxiety, a thunder vest may do more harm than good. Talk to your veterinarian about the possibility of using a thunder vest and pay attention to the results after the first few uses.
At this point, it bears reminding that your dog’s anxiety is almost certainly not your fault. As mentioned above, anxiety can stem from a wide variety of causes, and some breeds are more likely than others to be prone to noise anxiety. Highly intelligent breeds like Border Collies, German Shepherds, and Labrador Retrievers are especially prone to anxiety in all its forms.
If you’re in a situation where the dog that suffers from anxiety isn’t actually your dog—if you’re dog-sitting, for example, or just hanging out with a friend’s dog—there are still steps you can and should take.
Try to eliminate the triggering noise, if possible, or provide a relatively noise-proof room for the dog to relax. You should also discuss the possibility of seeking treatment with the dog’s owners just to let them know about the problem.
Again, noise anxiety can be a scary, complicated disorder. It’s hard to see our pets struggling from something with no clear cause and no easy solution.
However, you can help your dog dramatically by reducing their exposure to triggering noises, providing comfort and reassurance during a noise event, and encouraging them to keep building good behavior going forward. Behavioral modification and at-home trigger reduction may take time, but the results are well worth it for you and your dog alike.